‘Who’s the dictator?’ asks Iran’s Raisi as protests continue

Top officials this week visited universities, which have seen many rounds of protests since September.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a ceremony of National Student Day at Tehran University
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a ceremony at Students' Day at Tehran University in Tehran, Iran, on December 7, 2022 [Presidential Website/West Asia News Agency (WANA)/Handout via Reuters]

Tehran, Iran – Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has once again denounced the United States amid his country’s continuing anti-government protests.

The president visited Tehran University on Wednesday morning, where he delivered a speech to mark Students’ Day, and reiterated that there was a distinction between protests and “riots” – a word authorities regularly use to describe the country’s unrest, which has lasted close to three months.

“The Americans are after destruction and want a destroyed Iran instead of a strong Iran,” he said. “They want here to become Syria and Afghanistan, but they have made a mistake in their calculations and the educated Iranian men and women won’t allow them.”

Raisi referred to a visit he made last week to the protest-heavy province of Kurdistan, where cameras captured him being welcomed by a local shop owner in a marketplace with chocolates.

A video later widely circulated on social media in which the man is seen apologising for greeting the president.

“You saw a man offered me chocolates. The things they did to that poor man!” Raisi said.

“You talk about the issue of dictatorship. Who’s the dictator? The one who imposes so many sanctions against this country,” he added in reference to the US, which has imposed harsh sanctions since 2018 after withdrawing from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The president’s visit came on the third and final day of nationwide protests and strikes that were called anonymously online.

Videos of sporadic protests have come out of Tehran and several other cities in the past few days amid lingering internet restrictions.

Raisi said on Wednesday the restrictions are a response to “disturbances and insecurity created by enemies” and changes will be made when “safe conditions” are restored.

Meanwhile, many videos have been published online of closed shops in cities across the country, which have been countered by many videos released by state-affiliated media outlets that showed shops were open.

Authorities have repeatedly claimed that “anti-revolutionary” elements force shopkeepers to close down their businesses with threats of physical violence. The president also made this claim during his university speech.

Many shops, including several owned by football legend Ali Daei, have been shut down by the authorities for joining the strikes.

Other senior officials, including judiciary chief Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, and Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani visited various universities on Tuesday.

Zakani’s visit to the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran was perhaps the most controversial and confrontational, as he was heavily criticised by students who called him “corrupt”.

When a student said “we want to make a revolution but you won’t let us”, Zakani mockingly replied, “that’s child’s play, when you want to speak of revolution rub your throat well so it won’t get stuck in there”.

The country’s protests began shortly after the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman who was arrested by morality police for allegedly not adhering to Iran’s mandatory dress code.

A senior judiciary official said last week that the morality police had been suspended, but there has been no confirmation by police authorities and no indication that laws requiring mandatory hijab will be changed.

Iran has said 200 people have been killed during the unrest, which is lower than the more than 400 figure cited by a number of foreign-based rights organisations, who say Iranian security forces have killed protesters.

Foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian claimed on Tuesday during a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina that “police in Iran have not shot anybody and no one has been killed as a result of shooting or confrontation with police or security forces”.

However, the sister of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei on Wednesday condemned the crackdown on protesters, according to a letter released by her son.

Badri Hosseini Khamenei also said that the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards should “lay down their weapons … and join the people”.

“I think it is appropriate now to declare that I oppose my brother’s actions and I express my sympathy with all mothers mourning the crimes of the Islamic Republic, from the time of [former Supreme Leader Ruhollah] Khomeini to the current era of the despotic caliphate of Ali Khamenei,” Badri Khamenei, who still lives in Iran, said in the letter published on her France-based son’s Twitter account.

‘Dictated by CIA’

In addition to the US, top Iranian officials continue to accuse other Western countries of being behind the unrest in Iran.

In an interview with state-run IRNA published on Wednesday, intelligence minister Esmaeil Khatib only had harsh words for European leaders.

About French President Emmanuel Macron, Khatib said “it is no longer necessary for the US president to give him directions, because a corrupt, low-tier CIA intelligence source dictates what he must say and what positions he must adopt”.

He also criticised German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for his comments in support of the protests and against the Islamic republic, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for tweeting about a false claim that Iran could imminently execute 15,000 people arrested during the protests.

While the 15,000 figure was false, Amnesty International warned earlier this month that at least 28 people could face execution in Iran in connection with the protests, saying “authorities use the death penalty as a tool of political repression to end the popular uprising”.

On Tuesday, five people were sentenced to death and 11 others – including three minors – received lengthy prison terms for allegedly killing a member of the Basij paramilitary force during unrest in the city of Karaj last month.

Their sentences are preliminary and can be appealed, the judiciary said. However, judiciary chief Mohseni-Ejei had said earlier this week that “some” of the previous death sentences doled out for “corruption on Earth” and “waging war against God” in relation to the protests have been upheld by the Supreme Court and “will be carried out soon”.

Iran on Sunday executed four people and handed prison sentences to three others accused of working with Israeli intelligence.

Source: Al Jazeera